4th Year

September 30th 2006. Just over three years ago. It cost more than other similar hardware but it looked oh so desirable. It was all new to me but yet quickly became familiar. It was the day I took delivery of an Apple iMac. Three years have actually flown by and a lot has happened in that time. Unusually for me though one thing that hasn’t changed is the hardware I use. I’m still using the 24″ iMac which is running really well with Snow Leopard. Three months after getting the desktop I picked up a Macbook Pro which I still use today. What’s interesting is that prior to switching I would buy a new PC every couple of years. Maybe that was to do with PC gaming that I used to do more off, maybe it was the slowdown over time that I noticed with Windows. All I know is that for an initially high outlay compared to a same spec PC I’ve gotten far more use out of both my Mac’s.

Another key point is that the three years have been relatively hassle free. My iMac failed to boot once but I restored from a backup disk and it’s been fine ever since losing only a couple of day’s worth of files which wasn’t much. Touch wood. During that time I’ve upgraded the O/S twice to Leopard and recently Snow Leopard. The upgrades have left me with a faster O/S each time which was impressive and surprising.

One change that I’ve worked on over the last three years is making sure the software I use on the Mac is either open source or I pay for it. It’s taken a while as I couldn’t afford to buy everything at the one time nor find good alternatives to some expensive software but I’m there now. Torrenting makes it easy to get any app you need to be honest but I felt more and more uncomfortable about stealing software especially as the Mac development community is smaller, tighter and does make some great software. Definitely the right thing to do.

So that leads me into year 4. No need to upgrade, everything working fine. Except my head. More specifically my gadget head. One thing I’ve toyed with buying for a couple of years was an Apple TV or a Mac Mini for the TV. I’ve an ever growing library of digital media and I want to rip my DVD collection. Out of the two products I’d prefer a Mac Mini – more flexibility when it comes to player choices with Plex being the favourite at the moment. But I don’t want a third computer!

So the plan I have formulating…

  • Sell iMac and replace with Mac Mini for under TV.
  • Sell Macbook Pro and replace with new Macbook Pro with larger local disk.
  • Pick up a good monitor (not Apple as prices are eye watering!) for use on desk.
  • Pick up a Drobo as I’m running out of disk space as my local media grows.

That would leave me a great setup that should do me for a few years except it will cost money that I don’t really need to spend but when has that stopped me before. Mmmmm. Also, new Mini’s and iMac’s are rumoured this month both at a cheaper price. Interesting.

I might not know what hardware I’ll end up using but I do know I’ll be sticking with Apple over the coming years. Hopefully year 4 will be as trouble free as the last three.

iPhone App Update

I’ve got an addiction. I’m taking the first step’s in curing the addiction by confessing publicly. It’s all apple’s fault. First they make a great device in the iPhone, then they make it trivially easy to download app’s to it. Yes, that’s right – I’m addicted to iPhone app’s.

I think what’s key is that the range of app’s plus the power available in the iPhone make for a really good mobile platform. Some task’s are easier to do on the move – tracking weight, car costs, photo’s, twittering – the list goes on. Many tasks that I used to manage via spreadsheet on a desktop machine are now managed by a small app on the iPhone. One issue with some app’s is how to get the data out of them at a later date. Some allow for exporting or backup via e-mail but that is few and far between.

I last blogged about my app’s in January but since then there have been many many new app’s, some of really good quality that are worth mentioning. The problem I have is that the App Store and iTunes aren’t the best for finding app’s amongst the thousands. Easy to see top 25’s but I’m sure there are gem’s hidden away in the App Store just waiting to be found. Anyway, new app’s since January are (links open in iTunes):

Analytics – £3.49 – I use Google Analytics to track all my websites. This app allows we to pick any of the sites I track and see over 40 different reports on site traffic, visitors etc. I prefer this to the actual analytics website.
Deliveries – £1.79 – I order a lot of, mmm, stuff online. This app allows me to track deliveries of said stuff. Again, easier to see status via this app than it is visiting each individual website or courier company to check on progress. Looks great too.
Tumblr – Free – Good app that let’s me update my Tumblr site.
Convertbot – £1.19 – Unit converter with a great interface. Replaced the free Units app – it’s that good.
Skype – Free – It’s Skype on the iPhone. Not much else to say – installed as a just in case app rather than an essential for me.
Dictionary.com – Free – Many dictionaries on the iPhone cost around $20. This is free, lot’s of content and a thesaurus as well. Very useful and I use it quite often.
Night Stand – £0.59 – Gorgeous clock for the iPhone. Was never really sold on it but once I picked up a MovieWedge I know find it really useful when travelling. No need to depend on hotel having a good clock and it’s great to have it so large as my eyesight without glasses is really poor.

FlickIt

Flickit

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Runkeeper Pro – £5.99 – Use the app to track and later analyse my hill walks. Super reliable so far and new features added frequently.
Camerabag – £1.79 – Allows you to apply some nice post processing to photo’s. Recommended in this article in taking better iPhone pictures. Tried it a few times now and can work really well.
Pano – £1.79 – Allows you to stich together iPhone pictures into a panoramic of up to 16 images. I’ve found it a bit hit and miss when trying it. Interface is lovely though, overlaying current view over previous image allowing you to line up the photo better.
Flickit – Free – Let’s you upload images to Flickr. Supports tag’s, sets and geocoding of images. Best interface of any of the Flickr uploaders makes it really easy to use, and quick too. Highly recommended.
Audioboo – Free – Let’s you easily create audio podcasts/blog on the move. Has some potential but can’t see me using it that much.
GB Locate – £0.59 – Displays current OS grid position and latitude/longitude using iPhone GPS. Been very handy on the hill walks to confirm exactly where we are with the map.
iOSMaps – Free – Using GPS, the app will return the OS map for your current location. It downloads the map from a server so you need a good connection, hence can’t be replied upon for hill walking. I’ve found it to be a bit crash happy.
Google Earth – Free – It’s Google Earth. On the iPhone. Technically impressive but not often used.
Wikipanion – Free – Nice app for accessing Wikipedia articles – quicker than firing up Safari and searching.
Road Trip – £2.99 – For tracking car expenses. Always mean to do this but would forget how much I filled up by, what the mileage was etc. Being able to track on the iPhone is much easier as it’s easily done at the garage.
ITN News – Free – The best UK news app. Video reports and it’s quick too. Surprised by how good this is. More suprised that the BBC haven’t released their own app.
TED – Free – Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference app. While it replicates the podcast schedule the advantage of the app is that you can search for any published content and also bookmark favourites which I’ve done. Pretty fast to use too.
Qype Radar – Free – Search for local restaurants, markets etc. Difference is that there are reviews on each result so you can usually sort the good from the bad. Handy for frequent travellers.
Yelp – Free – Much the same as Qype – maybe slightly less UK content though?
WordJong – £1.79 – Cross MahJong with Scrabble and you get this great game. Every day presents a new game board and some of the challenges are really tough. Played this almost daily since I bought it and it’s still very enjoyable.
Frenzic – £1.79 – Fast based action/puzzle game that’s ideally suited to the touch interface on the iPhone. Played lot’s at first – now just an occasional blast.

Zen Bound

Zen Bound

WordJong

WordJong

Tap Tap Revenge 2 – Free – New version, better graphics, same Rock Bandesque gameplay. Nice but doesn’t draw me back.
Zen Bound – £2.99 – One of the most original games I’ve played on any platform. Concept is simple – wrap a rope around a 3D object. But the presentation polish, the graphics and the sound (wear headphones for this one) makes for a great experience.
Contraption – £2.99 – Build a machine to move a ball and complete a goal. Simple concept, complex puzzles but I got bored with it.
iDracula – £0.59 – Arcade shooter. Great graphics, can quite quite intensive but I got bored with it.
Lets Golf – £3.49 – Think Hot Shots Golf for the PSP and you’ve got this game. 4 courses, great cutesy arcade graphics but an accurat control method make for a challenging game. Recommended.
Flight Control – £0.59 – Surely everyone has this by now? Land planes by drawing their flight path. Simple concept, great fun to play and highly addictive. If you buy one game, get this!
Glyder – £0.59 – Fly around levels collecting orbs. Graphically superb but not much of a hook. Take this engine and make Pilotwings! That game would rock on the iPhone.
Who Has The Biggest Brain – £0.59 – Shakeel pointed this one out to me and it’s great. Think Brain Training on the DS and that explains the game. Uses Facebook Connect so you can see how your friends are performing. Cheap and a lot of fun – nice way to fill 10 minutes.
Scrabble – £5.99 – Fairly steep and only just out in the UK (been out for months in the US) but I love it. Can play against AI, another iPhone or two player sharing the one device. Only criticism I have is the dictionary – the AI comes up with some incredible words especially at the highest difficulty.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour – £5.99 – 7 courses and great use of the touch interface. The graphics are very good and it’s a challenging game. Only just out last week but already a favourite.
iFighter Lite – Free – Currently a one level demo game but the proper release is coming soon. If you’ve played 1942 before and it enjoyed it then this is for you. Best tilt control yet I think, probably due to the calibration in the game. There is some slow down when playing which will hopefully be addressed in the paid release.

There is one downside to this addiction. It cost’s money! So far my spend on the App Store is £156 since July 08. That’s a lot of money, far more than I expected. A few purchases early doors were regrettable as better app’s have been released or free alternatives have turned up but overall I’m really pleased with the app’s I’ve got. For another list of iPhone app’s have a look at Gordon’s latest updates – that’s where I found the Flickit app. Any good app’s that you use that I haven’t got?

Tweetie for Mac

Tweetie for the iPhone has been my favourite Twitter client since it launched. Fast, clean and full of great functionality. I’ve never quite managed to find as good a client on the Mac though. Twitterific was the first good Mac client but it felt slow and lacking in features especially compared to TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop. However both of those clients were Adobe Air based clients and always felt a wee bit sluggish, memory intensive and to be honest over featured for what I need. Thank goodness for Tweetie for Mac which launched today.

Tweetie Conversations

It’s a client written specifically for the Mac and it shows. Great design, fast and clean with a great deal of functionality for a v1.0 release. Things I like? Images open not in a browser but in their own pop-up within Tweetie. Conversations are viewed in an iChat style like the image above. Search is quick and trends are easily available via the search bar. You can also create a new window to hold an individual search – keeps the screen clean and free of clutter but means you can see more if you really want to. Much prefer this over TweetDeck’s way of working which can feel really clumsy but there’s no doubting it’s power for major Twitter users.

Shortcomings are really again only for power users. No easy way to group other Twitter users together apart form creating another Twitter account and using it to follow certain users. It’s a solution but not an elegant one. I’m sure future versions will offer some grouping support. I’ve set-up cmd+T as a new tweet shortcut so I can easily post from any app without finding Tweetie. I’ve also added a bookmarklet to Firefox which will create a new Twitter post via Tweetie of the current site your browsing. I used this bookmarklet instead of the one mentioned on the official site as it also posted the site title. One thing that did trip me up – cmd+return saves and send tweet and not return. Be nice if that was documented somewhere.

Even after just a night of use I’m delighted with Tweetie so far. Good looking, quick and low on resource requirements. It costs $19.95 ($14.95 until May 4th) or is free with ad support. The ad’s are very unobtrusive although once my credit card is back in action I’ll be making a purchase. It’s app’s like this that remind me why I switched to Mac.

Karma

I’ve spent today wrestling with dll issues and builds of Windows XP at work. It’s been frustrating and like looking for a needle in a haystack. By the time work was over I had the feeling the problem i solved but needs some testing. However I was cursing dll’s, the registry and Windows in general and looking forward to a night away form PC hassles.

So I plugged in my iPhone at home to get some podcast updates. After 10 minutes I realised the iPhone was still syncing. That’s not right! So I took a look at the iPhone in iTunes. Ohe feck – that’s definitely not right!

iTunes fecked my iPhone

Why is iTunes uninstalling applications. Then the iPhone rebooted and the sync continued. When t finished I had no third party app’s on the iPhone. I checked the app’s tab in iTunes and all the app’s were deselected. I selected them and sync’d and sure enough they were installed on the iPhone. However they were all in different screens, some had lost their settings and some games had lost their saves.

Drat, drat, drat.

Feck, feck, feck.

This is the first issue I’ve had since the 2.1 update fixed all my previous application issues. I’m hoping it’s a one off. My app’s are all up and running but losing some games saves is a real kick in the nuts. Looking at the Apple discussions on applications it looks like there are a lot of people that still have issues with iTunes and/or applications running properly.

Still, I can’t help but feel this is karma. The revenge of Bill Gates. A reminder that no matter the platform you will get issues from time to time. I just hope that the last lesson for a while.

Photo Management

Since moving to the Mac managing most data has been fairly easy. My doc’s are all straightened out, music is in iTunes capable hands and photo’s are thrown into iPhoto and it’s easy to sync and publish from the one app. Lightroom has changed all that.

I started using Lightroom at Christmas and I love the finer control I get on my photo’s. However all my photo’s prior to Christmas are managed in iPhoto. The only way to get the photo’s from Lightroom into iPhoto would be to export from Lightroom into iPhoto and keep two separate sets of the same photo. Grrr. I hate duplication and I hate over complicating processes.

iPhoto’s most annoying feature is that it moves photo’s into it’s own library. I would love to have it create a library of images from across my drives but leave them in their location just like Picasa does. I tried Picasa when it came out for the Mac but iPhoto was by far the better tool for me.

So that leaves me with two photo libraries at the moment and none of my new photo’s on the iPhone as I didn’t want to create duplicates. There’s a couple of options in iPhoto for changing the editor which is a bit clunky in practice and for copying items into library but all that does is change the import from a move to a copy. I just hope iPhoto 10 has the options to manage files out with the library. That would be an update worth paying for. I guess there’s nothing for it but to export and duplicate the files I want to view on the iPhone into iPhoto. At least then I can take advantage of the new face tagging features as well. Or is there another option that I’m missing?

Apple Updates

It’s Tuesday, there’s been loads of rumours so it makes sense that there are hardware updates from Apple. Nice bump’s across all the desktop range, especially on the iMac where extra RAM and HD size makes for a very nice product. Of most interest though was the Mac Mini. It’s been 18 months to 2 years since it’s last spec update and I’ve always toyed with the idea of using one as a media device attached to the TV. That’s despite the 360 (too noisy), the PS3 (great for Blu-ray but not fully codec compliant) and Sky HD (great for HD TV and Films but not great as a library). Apple TV doesn’t cut it for me and the Mac Mini looked to be best mixture of performance and flexibility that I wanted.

Two things have stopped me from buying one. It’s price and it’s spec which was starting to feel old. Today’s update has certainly sorted out the spec and it’s looking to be an excellent media device for under the TV. However I still have pricing issues.

Firstly, it’s price went up today in the UK. The cheapest Mac Mini before today was £391. Cheapest now is £499. Ouch. £499 feels expensive for what you get. I’ve always felt Apple overpriced in the UK when compared to dollar price so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the weak pound has lead to a price increase. Annoyingly the £499 priced Mini would be fine except it comes with only 1GB of ram. Surely that should have been 2GB by default?

Second is the comparison with Mac Mini and iMac prices. If I select the higher spec Mac Mini and bump up processor, memory and add I get the following spec:

# 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
# 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2x2GB
# 320GB Serial ATA Drive
# SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
# None
# Apple Wireless Keyboard & Wireless Mighty Mouse
# User’s Guide (English)

That cost’s £928.02.

A 20 inch iMac with the same hard drive and memory but faster processor only costs just over £100 more at £1043. A 24 inch iMac with double the hard disk and a faster processor costs £1,199. With a gorgeous 24 inch monitor. The pricing just doesn’t add up for me. Will this be the last Mac Mini update? I can’t see these selling well with the iMac so keenly priced in comparison.

So I’ll still not be buying a Mac Mini. Probably. As I think through it more I do have a Denon DVD player that cost me around £500 and the Mac Mini would do a lot more than the Denon ever could or would. The Denon at the time didn’t seem expensive. It does now!!!

Roundup

Busy weekend that was mainly indoors due to the quite lovely weather outside. Give me cold and dry any day over this wet and windy nonsense. It did get off to a great start when four parcels arrived Friday/Saturday. While not quite as good as the instant gratification of buying form a shop the fact I’d saved some cash with these purchases made it all seem a little sweeter.

First parcels were the rest of my hill walking gear. That’s me pretty well set now for the first walk 2 weeks today, a 6 mile jaunt to break everything in. The following weekend is a 12 mile walk which will be slightly more challenging. I can’t wait! Really looking forward to getting out and about. To help I’ve also picked up a couple of books including a cracking little pocket book of 40 walks close to Glasgow.

A new piece of tech was also in one of the parcels – a Bamboo Fun graphics tablet. One of my work colleagues has used one for years and I’d always been tempted. Seeing Shakeel use one over Christmas convinced me of their value. I’ve been using it today to process my London Eye photo’s in Lightroom and it is so much easier, offering far more precision than the mouse. While not essential I’m really pleased with the purchase.

Windows 7

More tech geekery – I’ve switched back to Windows 7. Can’t believe how much improvement over Vista and XP this is. So much so I…..nah – I won’t be switching back 😉 But I was impressed with it once I had it installed using Parallels 4. Quick to boot and shutdown compared to XP never mind Vista. It also looks pretty sweet. Not done to much more with it but will probably remove my XP virtual machine and use this instead.

Apart from that I started a nice new project for work that hopefully won’t take too long to finish off and I’ve caught up with the Screenwipe review of the year which was class. 24’s back tomorrow, Battlestar next week, Lost at the end of the month and FX is showing The Wire from Feb 23rd which if you haven’t caught yet should be added to your diary. Unmissable.

Oh, almost forgot. Tried Spotify today. Very impressive. Reminds me of Pandora before it stopped working in the UK.

And finally, I think. Macworld. Kind of quiet but iPhoto and iMovie 09 look to be very good upgrades so I’ll probably be upgrading at the end of the month. DRM free iTunes is good but it’s been a long time coming so doesn’t seem such a big deal. Even the Macbook Pro was fairly tame except for the non replacable battery. If that option plus the matte screen was available for the 15inch Macbook Pro I’d really consider upgrading. Thankfully it’s not!

2009 - Products I Can't Live Without

Read this post on Techcrunch describing the app’s that Mike Arrington uses day to day and would be less productive without them. Thought it would be fun to do my own and revisit every year to see what changes. So without further ado and in no particular order:

  • Google Reader – all my regular website/blog reading is done in Google Reader. Quick, feature packed and a great iPhone interface make this a winner.
  • iPhone – it’s become the essential gadget for me. A web browser that works well on a mobile, a touch interface that makes the phone and it’s app’s easy to use and a suite of app’s that extend the usefulness of the phone beyond any other I’ve used before. The positives far out way the negatives and it’s by far the best phone, maybe even the best gadget I’ve yet owned.
  • Firefox – use it at work and at home. Great browser on PC’s and Mac’s and combined with Foxmarks it’s currently unbeatable. Chrome once released on the Mac supporting plugins could change that in the future.
  • Remember The Milk – use it all the time to manage my to-do lists. Great web interface now supplemented by a wonderful app on the iPhone.
  • WordPress – used on this blog, newly updated and still hard to beat due to the large plugin library and community that surrounds it.
  • Toad – used every day at work for SQL Development. Essential, too many features to mention although UI isn’t the best with powerful features often lost or hidden within a multitude of menu’s and forms.
  • Notepad++ – I finally found this great Windows text editor this year. Great features and free.
  • Evernote – Note management on steroids. Windows client at work, Mac client at home on desktop and laptop, web based interface and iPhone client all in sync with ability to add and edit notes on any of these platforms. Smartest feature is OCR of any image uploaded to server. Can also store PDF’s and files attached to notes. I use the free option and can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • Twitter – can be seen as frivolous but more and more it’s becoming a great platform for communicating and also watching/responding to real world events far quicker than blogs/websites/traditional media can.
  • Tweetie – makes the most of Twitter on the iPhone. Could be my most used iPhone app and is certainly the best iPhone client by quite a margin.
  • iTunes – it has it critics but it works well for me, and it gives me great access to my local content, podcasts and also app’s and music via the store.
  • Mac OS X – while I can happily live without Windows I would be far less productive at home with Mac OS X. Windows 7 looks to be an interesting future release that offers a viable alternative to Mac OS X, something that can’t be said for XP or Vista.
  • Flickr – where I post all my images and where most of my friends post to as well. Still like the look and feel of the site, the features it offers and the community aspects that are hard to find elsewhere.
  • Textmate – used almost daily on the Mac. Similar feature set to Notepad ++ although slightly better laid out and for me quicker in operation.
  • Google Search – used every day. Can’t see anything breaking Google’s hold on the search market.

I use lot’s of other app’s and websites but they could easily be replaced whereas with this list I would be far less productive or have struggled to find a product as good as these. Anything missing – I do use Gmail but to backup my websites. It’s blocked at work so limits it’s use. I could access it on the iPhone but it’s own e-mail client is good enough. I do feel I may be missing some good tricks with Gmail though. I’ve also dabbled with Google Docs and Zoho but yet to settle on one. I’d like to move a few more docs onto these platforms in the coming year.

I’d love to see what others use day to day to see if I’m missing out on anything. Feel free to comment or link to your blog posting.

Macworld 2009

This is what I want, not expect.

  1. New update to iPhone OS. Copy and Paste, MMS, more screen customisation options, ability to remove stock apps (Stocks, Notes, Weather etc), run background app’s if the user wants to at their own risk with reduced memory and reduced battery life but at least give me the option, wireless sync and the long lost push notifications that were due in Sept. Sept 08. Thanks.
  2. Apple TV scrapped. Replaced with updated Mac Mini which is sold at a far reduced price. More capability, reduced price, new 10 foot interface. Boxee comes pre-installed.
  3. Snow Leopard – free update in Summer 09.
  4. One more thing – Mobile Me – it’s a great service and we’re really sorry about all the issues. Have it for free.

How great would Macworld without Steve Jobs be if those were some of the announcements tomorrow? I guess we’ll need to make do with some iLife news, some Snow Leopard news and predictable Macbook pro and Mac Mini updates. Oh well. Get well soon Steve.

P.S. Is anyone else, like me, expecting Phil Schillers keynote to be more entertaining than Steve Jobs?

GrooveShield Form

New CaseThe iPhone is a lovely device and I didn’t want to use it without some form of case. The day after purchasing the phone I picked up a Griffin Wave from the Apple store as there really wasn’t much else available on day one for the 3G iPhone. It did it’s job and protected the iPhone well but it was pretty ugly and also as the edge covered part of the screen it made cleaning the screen quite awkward. Shakeel was up last week and as soon as I saw his case I knew I had to change to it – the GrooveShield Form.

This clips over the back of the iPhone protecting the area which is prone to scratching and also gives slightly more grip than a naked iPhone. What I like the most is that it’s a hard case but also thin, so the iPhone doesn’t lose it’s looks which it did with the previous case. It’s also light and you hardly notice that a case is being used. The silver edging around the front of the phone is also still visible as is the whole front surface which makes cleaning the screen very easy. All the controls are easily accessible with the case on although the iPhone won’t fit in a dock unless the case is removed.

SmashedBest thing is that the case only cost £12 which is a real bargain. However it won’t protect the iPhone fully. One of my friends at work dropped his phone last week…onto a small stone. The result can be seen here – very nasty. He hopes to fix it himself – good luck! I don’t think it will be that straightforward.